Win union and worker support with trust and communication


By liamarus, 29 July, 2013

According to Ricardo Semler, most executives’ typical knee jerk response to a strike is to make the strikers’ lives as miserable as possible. A firm believer that labour unions are more than a necessary evil, Semler sees these institutions as one of the few legitimate agents of workplace change.

“Not all union leaders are sensible, nor is every union’s position reasonable. But to pretend a union does not exist, or to try and defeat it whenever possible with whatever means, at whatever cost, is hardly worthy of the term strategy,” says Semler.

Unions are important to protect workers

Have a look at the example of the company below:

SEMCO (a provider of engineering services and high-end wireless communications products) has a very participatory management approach. However, the company has seldom been immune to the pushback of union leaders and shop floor workers. However, the company has soldiered on with treating the unions in their company with respect.

Semco believes that constant relationships with unions are healthy for the company and the employees. The presence of union members at the company is always welcome:

The company never negotiates during a strike. Almost all companies that follow this rule end up bargaining under pressure and making concessions they later regret.

They allow their workers back to work and it is only after the workers have returned to work that the company resumes negotiations with them.

The relationships and negotiations hinge on two important criteria: trust and communication. Although Semco values dialogue, they NEVER negotiate during a strike.

The ostrich that buries its head in the sand has a bigger problem than limited vision

Semler compares the traditional approach to combating a strike to his own unconventional method:

Take a stand. Show the flag. Don’t back down. Treat everyone as adults.
Guarantee that anyone who wants to work can, even if that means calling the police. Tell the strikers that no one will be punished when they return to work. Then don’t punish anymore.
Protect company property, with force if necessary. Don’t keep records of who came to work and who lead the walkout.
Make it hard for the workers by closing the plant and suspending benefits. Never call the police to try and break up a picket line.
Try to divide and conquer the strikers. Maintain all benefits and don’t fire anyone during or after the strike. Make everyone see that a walkout is an act of aggression.
After it’s over, fire the instigators and anyone else you want to get rid of, intimidating others in the process. Don’t block workers’ access to the factory, or the access of union representatives to the workers. Insist that union leaders respect the decision of those who want to work, just as the company respects the decision of those who don’t.
Source: Maverick by Ricardo Semler

Semler defied the boarding school and military approach. He asks why we have sent our children to war to fight for democracy, yet as adults we spend the lions’ share of our time in workplaces tolerating autocratic leaders and working for people who regard our workplace as their own personal fiefdom. Relentlessly inventive and an effective champion of his cause, he led his organisation to unprecedented success by treating the adults he hires like adults.

Still not convinced? Labour unions have repeatedly named Semco as one of the best companies to work for.

Read more about Ricardo Semler here.

This article first appeared on HR Pulse.